Monday, December 21, 2009

Defining Freedom

The Rise Of Republican Nihilism | The New Republic
This fascinating article by Jonathan Chait includes lovely bit:
"In the right-wing mind, the world we live in at any given moment can be described as the free market, the American way of life, perhaps not a perfect world but a cherished and fundamentally free one. The next advance of liberalism will always bring socialism, tyranny, a crushing burden on industry, and other horrors. The previous liberal advances that they or their predecessors greeted with such hysteria are eventually incorporated into the landscape of the free American way of life."
Wish I'd said that.

Amazing Avatar Lives Up to the Hype

How good is Avatar? So good that I managed to sit through the entire experience (three hours, factoring in the previews of coming attractions)  without visiting the men's room.  For a man of a certain age, that's really something.  I can't think of a movie I've seen since passing the half-century mark nearly six years ago that wasn't interrupted by at least one hurried trip to the john. 

The hype around Avatar has, of course, been incredible.  As my daughter Amy recently posted on Facebook, "You can't sneeze lately without someone handing you an Avatar tissue." But the film more than lives up to the hype, and delivers a movie-going experience that's unlike any I've had in a lifetime of movie-going.

My previous and only other 3-D movie experience was the 1983 turkey Jaws 3-D, the most memorable part of which was turning around in my seat to see rows of movie-goers in those ridiculous white cardboard 3-D glasses.  (The new ones are far less silly, looking a bit like retro Ray-Ban knock-offs.

While it's true that Avatar's storyline offers few surprises, the movie  is nevertheless wildly entertaining. The visual experience is so stunning that I spent most of the film with my face frozen in a astonished grin. I've seen SFX spectaculars before; this is something entirely different. The combination of the 3-D technology, incredibly detailed computer-generated effects, and Cameron's "performance capture" system all but eliminates the "virtual" from virtual reality.

The overall experience was so compelling that any thought of giving in to the urgent need to pee was out of the question.

Speaking of questions, I have one: In the film, the Na'vi characters have three fingers and a thumb on each hand, while character Jake Sully's Na'vi Avatar appears to have a more human four fingers and thumb arrangement. What's up with that?

Weekend Report: ‘Avatar’ Soars in Debut - Box Office Mojo
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

American Car Culture is Humming Along

In his Wonderland column in today's Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger accuses the Obama administration's efforts to increase automobile fuel economy standards and drive the transition to alternative energy sources of killing an important element of American culture:

When Barack Obama announced that the government will use its fist to wave onto the highways of America cars that get 39 miles to a gallon of liquefied switch grass or something, he said, "Everybody wins."

Everybody? What country has he been living in? This marks the end of the internal combustion engine as we knew it, and it is the way Americans have defined, designed and literally driven much of the nation's culture for as long as anyone can remember. Car culture is America's culture.

As the various song lyrics Henninger cites in his column illustrate, there's no question that cool, fast cars loom large in the American psyche. But Henninger grossly underestimates both the depth of the American affection for the automobile and American ingenuity if he thinks that increased fuel economy or a shift to something other than decomposed dinosaurs as an energy source will kill car culture.  In fact, his prediction is already wrong.

As evidence, consider the National Electric Drag Racing Association,  an organization dedicacted to promoting public awareness of electric vehicle (EV) performance and encouraging advances in electric vehicle technology. 

John "PlasmaBoy" Wayland,  a NEDRA member, regularly blows the doors off gas-burning muscle cars with his White Zombie, an electric-powered 1972 Dastun.


Bill Dubé, another NEDRA member, is the owner and designer of the KillaCycle, the 174-mph electric motorcycle that holds the NEDRA record as the world's fastest electric vehicle.


For sheer, street-legal automotive cool, there's the Tesla Roadster from Tesla Motors. With prices starting at around $100k it may be a bit out of range for most of us, but that doesn't disqualify it as an object of automotive lust.








For something a little closer to economic reality for most of us, GM just announced today that is has begun building the first pre-production versions of the Chevy Volt.


Aptera, a newcomer to the auto industry, offers electric and hybrid vehicles with dramatically futuristic lines that are likely to inspire drooling in 21st century car nuts.


So Daniel Henninger is just plain wrong. American car culture is still very much alive. What's under the hood will bear little resemblance to earlier incarnations, and the muscle car rumble will be replaced with a steady hum, but based on what I see, cool cars, and cool car lovers, will be a part of American culture for a very long time. 

Monday, March 02, 2009

Boomer Barbie

For five decades little girls (and little boys with remarkably open-minded parents) have elbowed their way to the foot of the family Christmas tree to frantically claw at gaily wrapped presents in anticipation of finding Barbie. Today many of Barbie's fans are adults who continue to collect Barbie stuff. But you have to wonder if some of these mature fans aren't thinking that it's about time for Barbie to act her age.

Fifty years after Barbie's introduction she doesn't look a day over eighteen. And if eternal youth isn't irritating enough, she's got truckloads of clothing, several homes, and a vast collection of sporty pink cars. A kid can look at all this and think that she (or he) has a chance of living a Barbie life. But if you're a middle-aged Barbie nut there must be times when you imagine that she's looking at you and saying, "I'm so glad I'm not you." Nobody likes having their nose rubbed in their own shortcomings and mortality, especially not by an eleven-inch tall polystyrene bimbo who falls over backward if she isn't wearing heels.

Let's face it, if she was a teenager when she began her career fifty years ago, she's pushing seventy now. Who is she to talk? Christmas would be a lot happier for adult Barbie fans if they could find a Barbie under their tree that more accurately reflected the lifestyles of people who have a problem identifying with a plastic figure that never has to worry about gray hair, wrinkles, or hot flashes.

The solution: Boomer Barbie, and a full line of Boomer Barbie accessories. Boomer Barbie resembles the original Barbie, but she has to really work at it with frequent visits to the Boomer Barbie Rodeo Drive Maison De Make-Over, where you can make the grey go away with her special One-Coat Miracle Rinse, and restore that youthful smoothness with All Natural Organic Face Spackle. After a tough day at Boomer Barbie's Rancho De Landfill Real Estate Office, our synthetic siren likes to return home to Boomer Barbie's Big Divorce Settlement Dream House, complete with Jacuzzi, redwood deck, and Jorge The Muscular Gardener, with patent-pending Magic Hands.

Boomer Barbie doesn't hit the gym quite as often these days, so her closet is full of all new stuff, too, featuring many flattering, loose-fitting dresses, and lots of elastic-waisted pants.

Of course, Barbie's friend Ken hasn't forgotten his adult fans either. Boomer Ken is available in your choice of models, including Comb-Over Ken, Bad Hairpiece Ken, and Never Takes Off His Baseball Cap Ken. Each model comes dressed in roomy pleated khakis, and is equipped with a life-like, battery-operated paunch. Touch the hidden button and watch it jiggle! You can help Ken keep those mid-life crisis blues at bay with Boomer Ken's Deluxe Virility Restoration Kit, which includes the Ridiculously Expensive Sports Car, and Boomer Ken's special new friend, Chippie The Twenty-Three Year Old Fitness Consultant.

The introduction of a line of Boomer Barbie products will prove to grown-up Barbie fans that their favorite fashion princess is finally admitting that she's at the age when a full day of inline skating, beach volleyball, mountain biking, and clubbing is likely to result in a ride in the Boomer Barbie Ambulance. Boomer Barbie would much rather stay home, pop a handful of antioxidants, and watch FoodTV.